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A Michigan winter may not be the first cold weather vacation you think of, but Michigan has a wealth of winter activities. From big city indoor activities in Detroit to the winter wonderland in the Upper Peninsula, the state has lower prices and fewer crowds. It also has unique experiences like luge rides, dog sledding and frozen waterfalls.
A winter vacation in Michigan? Yes! This midwestern state is shaped like a mitten after all, so what better time to visit this midwestern winter wonderland. Michigan has all the usual winter activities, like downhill skiing, snowboarding and snow tubing. But it has so much more. Walk on a frozen lake! Ride a luge or a dog sled! Take a spin on a fat tire bike! And see frozen waterfalls!
And to warm up after all these outside winter activities, see museums in Detroit or head to one of the many indoor waterparks.
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula
This winter wonderland is breathtaking in more ways than one. Filled with fir trees and wooded state parks, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (known as the UP) offers stunning scenery and a broad range of winter activities. But it can also be startlingly cold. I was in the area during a polar vortex when temperatures were 20 to 30 degrees below zero degrees Fahrenheit. Be sure to pack plenty of layers, hand and foot warmers and build in time during outdoor winter activities for a hot chocolate to warm up.
The downhill skiing up north is great for beginners and intermediate skiers. During college, we used to drive up north, since it was relatively close to St. Louis and affordable for students. Thankfully, the ski areas didn’t have long lift lines and we could ski all day long. And high annual snowfall totals meant we were skiing on natural snow.
Where to ski and snowboard in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula:
- Indianhead Mountain Resort
- Marquette Mountain
- Porcupine Mountains Ski Area, in the northwest portion the Upper Peninsula has the midwest’s only snowcat skiing and snowboarding
Even better – and less expensive – than downhill skiing, the UP has winter sports like snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, activities that get the blood flowing and warm you up no matter how cold the air. It is easy to find rentals for all the different outdoor winter activities you will want to do in the Upper Peninsula.
Muskegon Luge Adventure Sports Park
Muskegon Luge Adventure Sports Park, on Lake Michigan is one of only four places to ride a luge in the United States. Beginning riders can try the Learn to Luge, offered every weekend in the winter. It is open to anyone over 48 inches and 65 pounds.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Looking to make the most of your travel budget while maximizing the fun? With a wide range of deals on local activities, dining, and experiences, Groupon helps you stretch your budget by offering discounted options near you.
If sliding is not your thing, Muskegon winter sports complex, near Grand Rapids also offers:
- Cross country skiing in Muskegon State Park
- Outdoor ice skating on a natural ice rink
- Snowshoe trails through Muskegon State Park
Frozen Great Lakes
Lake Michigan, one of the Great Lakes, reliably freezes over every winter. This makes it popular for snowmobiling and ice fishing but what I found even more exhilarating was walking on the frozen lake. How often do you get to do that?
SheBuysTravel Tip: Whether you are on frozen Lake Michigan or hiking in a snowy state park, remember, no walking, snowshoeing or cross-country skiing on snowmobile trails. Regard them like the icy highways they are.
Throughout Michigan’s UP, state parks have hiking trails and waterfalls. This means in late winter, you can go on a winter hike to see frozen waterfalls. These dramatic natural sculptures make you feel you stepped onto the set of “Frozen.”
Munising, the southern shore of Lake Superior (another one of the Great Lakes), has five frozen waterfalls.
If you don’t want to go to the Upper Peninsula, you might be able to see a frozen waterfall in Ocqueoc Falls, but it doesn’t freeze over every winter.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Avoid groomed snowshoeing or cross-country skiing trails when hunting for frozen waterfalls.
You can experience dog sledding two ways in Michigan:
- watch a dog sled race
- go on a dog sled ride
I mentioned dog sledding to my kids when they were little and they were confused. Why would dogs get to ride the sleds? Ah, NYC kids. But dog sledding is big in the winter months, whether you are watching the dogs race or taking a sleigh ride with the huskies pulling you. And anyone who thinks the dogs don’t enjoy this has never seen a Labrador Retriever or Alaskan husky frolicking in the snow.
Some places to experience dog sledding:
- Shemhadar Kennels in Cadillac has dog-sled tours and Musher Experiences where you learn how to drive the dogs
- Nature’s Kennel Sled Dog Racing and Adventures in Michigan’s UP has longer day trips and overnights in yurts
- Marquette Recreational Tours in Marquette offers dog sledding. Time your trip to coincide with the annual UP 200 Sled Dog Race, which starts in Marquette’s downtown and goes for 240 miles. This is one of those winter events that the entire town turns out for.
- Kalkaska Winterfest, a weekend-long, family-friendly event is the largest sprint sled dog race in the Lower 48. The northern Michigan winter festival is held in February.
Boyne Mountain Resort
Boyne Mountain Resort in Northern Michigan is the ideal winter getaway for the family that wants a ski resort with both indoor and outdoor winter activities.
In addition to downhill skiing and snowboarding, Boyne Mountain Resort offers
- Fat tire biking
- Snow tubing
- Outdoor ice skating – for free!
- Sno-Go ski biking with free lesson for first time rentals
- Horseback riding
- Outdoor heated pools
Avalanche Bay Indoor Waterpark at Boyne Mountain Resort has a thrillingly steep water slide along with tamer slides, a surf simulator, lazy river and tube rides. There is also a hot tub for aprés ski.
Crystal Mountain Resort
Crystal Mountain Resort offers downhill skiing and cross country ski trails that environmentalists can feel good about. The resort offset the carbon footprint of its high-speed quad chairlift by investing in wind energy and has a closed-loop, geo-thermal heating and cooling system. There is also a LEED-Certified spa and free electric vehicle charging.
Other activities at Crystal Mountain include:
- a free outdoor ice skating rink (you just have to pay for rentals, or bring your own skates)
- an indoor pool with a family play area
- horse drawn sleigh rides that end with hot chocolate
- 12 miles of fat tire bike trails
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park
Climb the sand dunes in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park, near Crystal Mountain Resort. The dune climb, overlooking Lake Michigan, is open year round, around the clock.
There are day trips here from Traverse City.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Dress warmly since a frigid wind blows off Lake Michigan in winter months.
Detroit in Winter
Winter in Detroit is the perfect time to explore the great indoor cultural attractions. The Detroit Institute of Art and the Henry Ford Museum in nearby Dearborn are both huge museums where you can spend the day.
Detroit Institute of Art
The Detroit Institute of Art should be seen just for its gorgeous Beaux-Arts architecture. The comprehensive collection ranges from ancient to contemporary and modern art, with extensive Asian, African and Native American art. Don’t miss Detroit Industry, the Diego Rivera mural from 1932. There is daily free programming, including scavenger hunts, learn to draw drop in programs and live music.
Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation
The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation focuses on cars and much more. Even if you aren’t a car buff, the drool-worthy cars here can’t be missed. Be sure to also see Buckminster Fuller’s aluminum “house of the future”, the beautiful furniture on display, historical clothing, vintage trains and airplanes and artifacts documenting America’s manufacturing fast.
SheBuysTravel Tip: If you want to eat at the authentic 1946 New England diner, go early.
From the Henry Ford Museum, you can hop on a bus to the Ford Rouge Factory Tour Visitor Center and take a self-guided factory tour. This is the truck plant where Ford F-150s are assembled. On an elevated walkway, you get a bird’s-eye view of the assembly line. There is also an exciting (really!) short film of an F-150 truck assembly.
LEGOLAND Discovery Center Michigan
LEGOLAND Discovery Center Michigan, a short drive from Detroit, is an indoor LEGO playground with two rides and 10 LEGO build and play zones.
MINILAND recreates Detroit landmarks in miniature. There is also a 4D cinema and meet and greets with LEGO characters.
In addition to Avalanche Bay at Boyne Mountain Resort, other most excellent indoor waterparks in Michigan include:
- Great Wolf Lodge in Traverse City
- Zehnder’s Splash Village in Frankenmuth
- Bavarian Inn Lodge water park, also in Frankenmuth
- Gold Rush Indoor Waterpark at the Double JJ Resort in Rothbury. This spot has snow tubing for when you want to get outside
- Soaring Eagle Waterpark in the the Great Lakes Bay Region
SheBuysTravel Tip: Before you pack out of season bathing suits and water shoes, make sure they still fit growing kids. You don’t want to have to buy all new stuff at pricey on site gift shops.
Grand Rapids and Breweries
Grand Rapids, also known as Beer City USA, has over 40 craft breweries. There are brewery tours by bus so you don’t drink and drive. Our children are now young adults and this is something they love to do after a day of outdoor activities
Want more beer? These Michigan cities are known for their breweries:
- Traverse City